Monday, 3 November 2014

Balancing the books - Mixed Economy Church

Over the weekend I found myself engaged in a number of conversations, all of which ended up on one of two issues: Leadership and money - two areas where, if what I heard was true (and I have no doubt it was an accurate portrayal), the Church is lacking!

When Rowan Williams introduced the term 'Mixed Economy' - that wonderful world where Church (established and new) stood side by side as ONE:

The vision was a bunch of believers who saw each other as family; a source of celebration and collaboration: The reality is (for many) something quite different.

The intention was that new communities of believers (AKA 'church') created by those who otherwise would not be 'doing Church' coming into relationship with Christ in new, vibrant and accessible 'Fresh Expressions of Church'.

BUT (Yep, there it is, there's always one somewhere) the reality of the whole situation is (in my humble, perhaps naive and uniformed opinion) that, reminiscent of that when Saddam Hussein was removed from power, the next step hasn't been properly thought through and this is where the problems are beginning to bite.

The problem is that many of these Fresh Expressions (FE) have come into being and when the celebrations stop and the fireworks are but distant memories we find ourselves facing a few real, and yet not show-stopping (but potentially fatal) issues unless we stop, draw breath, and work out how we might make it all work. To do this we need to deal with expectations, assumptions and what prudent management really looks like - and here's my thinking on it:

'Bringing them to church' Four little words that highlight much of the discontent that exists within the traditional churches where a Fresh Expression has been established. The problem is that the idea of a Fresh Expression is to create a new fellowship not 'bring them back' (a rather silly expression that reflects on what never was regarding a people who have never been Church) and so many in PCCs are wondering why they spend money on something that doesn't add numbers to their local expression of Church. This is perhaps best seen in the area of Messy Church - for far too many (including clergy) are really seeing this as Messy Evangelism, a means of bringing them in to our church congregation - the key is in the word 'church' for it implies that those who become part of the Messy thing will form a new congregation. Now this might be in the same building but it's not, as a colleague said, "An introduction to the building and some of the people in it so that they get comfortable and transfer across to the proper services,"  but the establishment of a new expression of Church that celebrates diversity and sees a peer, not a child (and how often do we use the term 'church plant' or 'daughter church' as a  statement of superiority and as a possessive? and the growth of the Body of Christ.

This frustration finds its voice in the minutes of a friends Church Council meeting, "We keep paying the bills for the phone box plant* and yet we see no benefits for us here at St Bogsplats* so why should we keep paying when we have our own challenges and needs?" What many see is a modified heading 'Bringing them back to our church' and this thought leads us nicely on to the next area.

Perhaps the biggest threat to the whole mixed economy model is the reality that many traditional churches are struggling (which is why Fresh Expressions came into being) in terms of attendance and finances. Now, when money gets tight PCCs seek to conserve spending and this means that some Fresh Expressions are finding their support cut or even stopped. Change the lens on the microscope to focus at the diocesan level and you'll find that the same is true again; many diocesan Treasurers are also struggling and so, in order to pay their bills, expenditure is reduced and Fresh Expressions (and other areas) are finding themselves with less (or no) financial support. This means that some are finding themselves without a 'paid for' leader, a situation which although very New Testament is also interpreted as abandonment by those within the FE and as prudent by those on the corridors of power.

The Poor old Bishop is faced with more going out than coming in and so, Micawber like, looks at the budget and opts for the path of institutional happiness rather than misery. The problem is that, as sad as it is, the cutting (or removal) of funding for an emerging church that meets in a pub is a simpler and less visible (and therefore contentious) option than that of removing the dogcollar from St Bogsplats,  merging benefices or closing churches.

Prudent (Biblical) Financial Management
I am a firm supporter of the practice of getting people to pay for whatever it is that is being launched as a Fresh Expression. I think it is right for Church (at all levels) to 'cast its bread on the water' - to be generous in funding the start up needs of a group such that capital costs are met and to fund the minister for a set period - because this is what we're called to do in the book of Ecclesiastes. It is a call to prudence and a stand against inactivity; a call to do something that will, in the end, bring rewards that other will consider 'lucky'!

Once the initial costs are met there needs to be a sliding scale of support as the new church begins to take upon itself the running costs (which includes some contribution towards the Parish Share/Common Purse payments from the start). It looks a bit like this:

It is important that we don't give birth to new communities that are parasitic in that the expectation that they can do the stuff at the expense of others and yet I have met many who complain that they have been 'dumped' by the funding agency (church, diocese or other body) because funding has stopped without any warning, something that has resulted in:

+ Disenfranchisement from the body who used to fund them

+ People leaving the plant because they felt unloved and 'done to'

+ Negative perceptions of the Church as greedy, uncaring and money-grabbing hypocrites

+ All involved being rendered bitter, broken and impotent as a result of being associated with failure

The reality is that we (local church, diocese and Archbishop's Council) need to be planting and funding things that expand the Kingdom of God in a balanced and business-like manner.

We need to have plans in place with financial and spiritual models (that's why the Mission Action Planning (MAP) is so very important) considered and firmed up.

We need to understand that every plan looks great until the enemy is engaged and then lines, goals and plans of action need to be revised and changes implemented - and that this is not failure but proper and prudent behaviour.

We need to realise that prayer is not reserved for the times when it's all going wrong - it's the action we need to have at the beginning and at every step along the way - it's the covering fire and the means by which we advance.

And so, twenty-five minutes into this splurge, I leave you with some food for thought and my brain slightly quite as I rush off to do visits, funeral stuff and engage with wonderful people on the way through today.

This is not a subject that is finished I'm sure (and we never got anywhere near the leadership issue, did we?)



*Apologies to any FE that is a plant in a 'phone box and if there is a St Bogsplats :-)


Ben said...

Thanks Vic - a well thought out post which highlights a very real issue for many fresh expressions of church. My only comment would be that your three year incremental funding model is woefully short for most fresh expressions of church - to expect a new contextual church to be started and grown to virtual financial self-sufficiency in three years doesn't seem realistic.

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Totally agree Ben - woefully short and yet for many the reality is that three years is perhaps the best they might expect.

The problem is, as ever, money, desire and reality colliding I fear - but three years is better than nothing I guess. It does mean that giving and supporting what you value is perhaps present form the very start and therefore not the bitter pill many find they have to take after getting used to it all being paid for.



Dee said...

In short MAP is a tool that needs to be used and used well.
A FE is an investment. It will need up-front cash and a growing means to generate its own. And the outcome may not do much for the "investment bank". The prayerful development of the MAP is as much a part of the FE as coffee making or music.
It might of course be a better investment if the effort was applied also to sorting out failing traditional churches - maybe somebody could sponsor a TV makeover series where a squad comes in and sorts out the parish over a weekend or two. Deeny on the stone fabric, Gok on the vestments etc. Maybe we could start writing a pilot script or two?

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

It might be simple to employ diocesan arsonist and pitman roles (pick me) Dee

Thanks for comments,


Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Hitman - Hitman

Blinking predictive text strikes aging!